Make needs-based affirmative action official, says economist

Economist Ramon Navaratnam says help should be given to those who need it, regardless of race. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: An economist who helped design the New Economic Policy (NEP) has urged the government to turn its plan for needs-based affirmative action into a formal policy.

Ramon Navaratnam, who was deputy head of the Treasury’s economics division when the NEP was drawn up, said it would be ideal if the plan could be institutionalised through an act of Parliament.

If this was difficult to do, he added, the government should at least make the plan official by drawing up a policy.

Speaking to FMT, Navaratnam said he was encouraged by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim’s reiteration that he was committed to needs-based affirmative action.

“Help needs to be given to those who need it, regardless of race,” he said. “The government needs to identify those who need help and it shouldn’t be difficult because needs-based is related to income-based.”

He suggested the establishment of a parliamentary select committee to oversee the implementation of such a policy.

Ramon Navaratnam.

“As long as the political willpower is there, I know the government can do it,” he added.

He said the NEP was never meant to be race-based.

He said it had two goals: the first to alleviate poverty regardless of race, which was a success, and the other to restructure the economy by eliminating identification of race with occupation.

At the time, most farmers and fishermen were Malays, most rubber tappers were Indians and most businessmen and tin miners were Chinese. The NEP was a social engineering project to remove such identification.

“These ideals were hijacked by little Napoleons within the civil service and the principles of reducing polarisation among the races got lost along the way,” Navaratnam said, adding that this was a consequence of letting the civil service become Malay-dominated.

“So, I believe, there was a lesser understanding of the needs and interests” of non-Malay communities.

He noted the Federal Constitution’s provision of special privileges for the Malays and indigenous communities but said this did not mean the denial of opportunities for non-Malays.

“Even among the Malays, deserving ones didn’t always benefit. Instead political allies, friends and family members did. This is crony capitalism.”

He said race-based policies would lead to racial polarisation and a brain drain. “When this happens, foreign investments will be affected and this is bad for economic growth.”

A weak and uncompetitive economy, he added, would be especially detrimental to the poor.

“The Malays still form the majority of the poor. They will lose out the most.”

Last Friday, Anwar affirmed that a needs-based NEP was already being implemented by Pakatan Harapan and said he would accelerate the process when he assumes the prime minister’s post.

The NEP was introduced in 1970. It officially ended in 1990, but race-based policies continue to this day.